Organic chemistry is the chemistry that looks at carbon-based compounds, hydrocarbons and other related molecules. It involves the study of the structure, properties, composition, reactions and preparation of these compounds. Occasionally these compounds and/or reactions will involve other elements like hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, halogens, phosphorus, silicon and sulphur.
Even though these compounds are made mainly of carbon, they are incredibly diverse and the range of applications of organic compounds is extraordinary. These compounds form the basis of many products like plastics, medicines, petrochemicals, food, paints and explosives. And without them almost all life processes would be impossible.
Organic chemistry is a wonderful area but it and I just never got along. Sure, while I was studying chemistry at university I had the ability to synthesise every product in the practicals. Yes, I was that student. Results just fell into my lap but even more frustrating was that I never really understood organic chemistry. I don’t know who was more frustrated, my lab demonstrator, my peers or me.
However, if the NanoPutians had been mentioned in my lectures, I may have paid closer attention. What’s a NanoPutian? Well, see this lolchemistry image? It is a real organic molecule two nanometers. They look like people and are an entire class of molecules based on what they look like. There’s enough for a village of them.
Stephanie H. Chanteau and James M. Tour, the chemists behind the creation of the NanoPutians, have written the most delightful synthesis paper I have ever read. There are phrases like, “formation of head”, “attachment of legs” and my most favourite phrase, “forming a more reactive underbelly” in the descriptions of the synthesis. Chemists with a sense of humour and fun.
If the name NanoPutians sounds familiar to you but you can’t quite figure out how, it is a nod from the authors to Jonathan Swift’s classic, Gulliver’s Travels:
Utilizing such a license, the anthropomorphic molecules here are dubbed, as a class, NanoPutians, following the lead of the Lilliputians in Jonathan Swift’s classic, Gulliver’s Travels
The research paper with all the synthesis details:
Chanteau, S. H.; Tour, J. M. “Synthesis of Anthropomorphic Molecules: The NanoPutians.” J. Org. Chem. 2003, 68, 8750–8766. DOI:10.1021/jo0349227